31/07/2013 10:27 BST | Updated 29/09/2013 06:12 BST

A Fear Of Not Flying


It is 5am, and I'm due out on the first flight from Heathrow.

My taxi driver has just told me that he reckons flight is probably man's greatest achievement. At this particular point in time, I'm thinking espresso is man's greatest achievement.

Everyone is being relentlessly cheerful. The man who just frisked me in a most intimate manner said how nice it was for me to be flying to Madrid in the middle of the summer. I wasn't fully able to agree with his point of view, given the time of day, which I managed to grunt to him through my pre-caffeine fog. "I must just be used to it," he said, grinning further.

I've sat in airports all over the world at some crunchingly awful times of day, early for European day trips, and late for trips elsewhere.. I knew I was in trouble once when I was offered the use of an SAD lamp in a Scandinavian airport lounge at about 4.30 one morning: I think they spot the troublemakers at the door.

I could, in actual fact, have sat at my desk to do the meeting today. I had a very pleasant conversation with a man in Spain a week or so ago, and we thought that there might be some "synergies" (that is business-speak for me wanting to sell to his customers, and him wanting to sell to mine, hopefully, but necessarily definitely, a mutually beneficial arrangement). He was sitting in a café in 40 degree heat. I was sitting in a muggy office in London, staring at the rain.

"We could do a WebEx," he said, "or maybe you could come out and meet the team". I knew that if I agreed to do the trip, I would have to do the early morning airport run to have the slightest chance of getting home on the same day. But was I tempted by the video-conference? Not for a second.

Perhaps I am the worst sort of reactionary, but I don't like doing business over the telephone, and I absolutely detest doing it via a grainy web image. I used to have a WebEx account, but for the amount I used it, it was probably more expensive per minute than a handful of sat phones. For me, it is about meeting people, shaking hands, and getting to know them.

Video has its place, as does the phone. You can't schlep several thousand miles to have a quick progress meeting (unless you work for a multi-national software company and need the air miles for holiday). But for those crucial moments, those real selling moments, you have got to deal face-to-face. It helps focus people's attention because you are physically present, and at the end of the day, people buy from people.

I've got a telephone conference on Friday afternoon with a bunch of very important Americans. Completely out of the blue, someone has assembled a large number of his colleagues to talk about what we do, and to get a demo. I'm excited, but sceptical at the same time. I won't be seeing the whites of their eyes, and they will only get a tinny disembodied voice, no matter how carefully I set up my desk mike. You lose the body language and the cues that you need to get your point across successfully.

That said, in this instance I'll take my chances on the first "meeting", and then jump on a plane if I have to.

Which will mean that as usual, I will wake up two hours too early, worrying whether my alarm is going to go off, somewhat negating the point of setting it in the first place. I saw 3am today, only to find my broadband was down, so no iPlayer movie for the plane, but a cheery rant to a lady in a Virgin call centre in Bangalore to pass the time 'til the taxi came.

A long time ago, I used to think business travel was glamorous and exciting. It took exactly one trip to knock that put of me. It can be made bearable sometimes, but generally it is one person pitching themselves into unfamiliar circumstances, saddled with tiredness from a stupidly early morning, or horrendous jet lag. I'm lucky that I haven't had to do a lot of it for a while, but this year it's picking up with a vengeance.

So the good news is that I might at least get enough points to be allowed in the business class lounge for a free snack and a snooze- The bad news is I might have to do so many flights that I get enough points to be allowed in the business class lounge!